Behind the Deal: Oliver & Bonacini Buys The Carlu
Andrew Oliver has been coveting The Carlu for years. So Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants' president was in fine spirits when Bisnow caught up with him to ask about his company's acquisition of the iconic College Park event space that once played host to Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra.
“It’s a massive deal,” says Andrew, noting that The Carlu—a lovely specimen of Art Moderne architecture that’s designated as a National Historic Site of Canada—is a perfect complement to O&B’s other historic event spaces, particularly Arcadian Court at Hudson’s Bay Queen Street flagship. “Now we have two large-scale venues where we can have clients. That’s the big draw for us.” The deal was made official late Friday, Andrew tells us. “We had to postpone the celebration until the wee hours. But it was well worth it.” (While he won’t dish on how much O&B paid, Andrew says “both sides ended up winning.”)
Dating to the 1930s, and originally known as Eaton’s Seventh Floor, The Carlu was painstakingly restored in an effort led by Mark Robert and outgoing manager/venue co-owner Jeffry Roick, who calls The Carlu the "gem" of the city’s event scene. “We have a huge responsibility to do justice to what The Carlu is and what it has been to Toronto,” Andrew says. O&B first approached the venue's ownership group five years ago seeking a partnership, though things didn’t work out. Andrew got back in touch a year ago, this time seeing if they wanted to sell. “And the rest is history.”
O&B, which operates 12 Ontario restaurants—including Canoe, Auberge du Pommier and Jump—has been making a serious push into the events sector. In 2009 it acquired and renovated The Arcadian (shown above); it's opened event spaces at TIFF Bell Lightbox (Malaparte); Windermere House in Muskoka; Westin Trillium House in Collingwood; the Toronto Region Board of Trade; and, most recently, Trump tower. O&B is also building new venues in Calgary and Montreal. “We want to offer more spaces to our clients so we can be a one-stop shop,” Andrew explains.
Designed by French architect Jacques Carlu, The Carlu—with 47,500 SF of space and capacity for 1,500—is in “peak condition” and “move-in ready” thanks to the care taken by its erstwhile owners. That said, the kitchen will need to be “enhanced” and turned into a full-fledged catering facility that meets O&B’s exacting requirements. As for rumours the buyers plan on adding a restaurant at The Carlu? “We’re not,” Andrew stresses. “And we’re not changing the look of the space. We love it for what it is—that’s why we want to be there.”